New Regulation Could Require Heath Plans to Cover More COVID-19 Testing

State health officials have filed an emergency regulation that would require health plans to cover the costs of coronavirus testing for all essential workers,  something they say will reduce barriers so more people can get tested.

Under the new regulation from the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), COVID-19 testing  would be classified as a basic medical necessity for health care and other essential workers, regardless of symptoms or known exposure to someone with the virus.

DMHC says requiring health insurers to pay for tests without co-pays or cost sharing will give vulnerable populations and people who can’t physically distance at work more access to testing, and help infected people isolate faster.

A spokesperson from the California Association of Health Plans says insurers in the state have already been covering COVID-19 testing if ordered by a physician per federal guidelines. But instead of doctors evaluating which patients have a medical necessity for testing on a case-by-case basis, essential workers would now automatically qualify for their tests to be paid for by health plans.

On Wednesday, DMHC submitted the emergency regulation to the state's Office of Administrative Law, which has 10 days to approve it.


— Peter Arcuni (@peterarcuni)

Tenants Groups Protest Oakland Landlord's Federal PPP Loan

Tenants rights groups rallied outside the headquarters of an East Bay property management firm Friday to protest the company accepting as much as a million dollars in federal loans.

A group of tenants organizations called the United Front argue many of the Lapham Company’s tenants are on the brink of eviction with no relief in sight.

"I'm a Lapham tenant," said one protester who identified herself as Haley, in a video taken outside Lapham's office. "We were shocked when we found out Lapham received hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to survive this pandemic. We believe we should be allowed to survive this pandemic too. That relief needs to be passed on to renters. Cancel rent."

The United Front is a coalition of advocacy and union organizations, including Asian American Pacific Islanders for Civic Empowerment, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, AFSCME, California Calls, and others.

The United Front is warning there are two weeks left until California’s statewide eviction moratorium expires, and if no action is taken to help tenants, many will soon become homeless.


These tenant activists hope legislators will pass Assembly Bill 1436, authored by Assemblymember David Chiu, (D-San Francisco), which would keep that eviction moratorium in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Lapham Company manages about 40 multi-family properties and single-family homes across Oakland and Berkeley.

— Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez (@FitztheReporter)

San Mateo County: Some Indoor Businesses Must Shut or Move Outdoors

Officials in San Mateo County announced Saturday that certain
indoor businesses and activities must shut down or move to outdoor operations beginning today.

The businesses include gyms and fitness centers, churches, hair
salons, barber shops, nail salons and shopping malls.

Officials say this order will be in effect beginning at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

Businesses offering tattoos, piercings and electrolysis may not be operated outdoors and must close.

The state informed the county Saturday afternoon that, due to
being more than three days on the COVID-19 monitoring list, specific indoor businesses must cease operations unless they can be modified to operate outside or by pick-up.


— Bay City News

Highschooler's Online Music Lessons Go Worldwide

What started as a pet project born out of boredom during the shutdown is now a full-fledged organization with 170 volunteers offering more than 5,000 lessons to 500 students around the world.

But it's also raising money to help national coronavirus efforts.

"We raised almost thirty thousand dollars for the CDC Foundation," said Julia Segal, an incoming senior at Gunn High in Palo Alto. The Foundation is a non-profit that was created by Congress to support the CDC.

Segal started “Quarantunes” out of her love for music and a desire to contribute to the fight against the pandemic.

But as more people signed up for lessons, Segal realized there was still one major barrier.


"We're providing these music lessons. But the people that we actually want to be able to pick these music lessons are the people that currently cannot because they don't have instruments," Segal said.

To try and solve that problem, Quarantunes partnered with local music shops to offer free instruments.

"They have these old instruments that they no longer had a use for because they weren't in perfect condition," Segal said. And in return, "we spread the word about their shop."

A Quarantunes’ volunteer picks up the instruments and sends them to the students in need.

Segal says since starting this program she’s recognized her own privileges having parents who can afford to pay for her extracurricular activities.

"I’ve kind of lived in a bubble a little bit, even people that live as close as the other side of Palo Alto, just seeing how drastically different their lives are," Segal said. "It has shown me so much inequity."

Segal says Quarantunes plans to add even more virtual courses including cooking and soccer while she begins her senior year, which, like Quarantunes itself, she'll attend remotely.

— Shannon Lin (@LinShannonLin)

Tri-Valley Salons to Stage Mass Reopening to Protest Pandemic Closures

A group of Tri-Valley salon owners have planned a widespread re-opening to protest health orders to stay shut.

Ahead of that mass reopening, dozens of hairstylists and salon owners gathered outside Flaunt Hair Designs in Pleasanton Saturday afternoon.

"Why can I get my braces tightened but I can’t do your hair? " read one protest sign.

Flaunt Hair Designs owner Christine Palmer says the group agreed during the meeting to stage a mass reopening on August 17.

Palmer hopes if multiple salons reopen at once the county won’t fine them. Fines can go up to $1,000.


"Can’t we just do your hair? We’ll both wear masks. Nobody’s huffing and puffing," Palmer said. "We’ll follow the guidelines, and do it safely. It’ll be fine. Let us work."

But because of the increase in cases and hospitalizations, Alameda County is on the state's monitoring list and doesn’t currently have any plans to reopen salons.

— Holly J. McDede (@HollyMcDede)

San Francisco Reports Alarming Surge in COVID-19 Cases

San Francisco is seeing a dramatic surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, according to Dr. Grant Colfax, the city’s top public health official.

“If things continue at current rates, we estimate that on average we will have more than 750 San Franciscans in the hospital by mid-October and more than 600 deaths from COVID-19 in 2020,” Colfax said at a press conference Thursday.

The number of people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in San Francisco is hovering just over 100, with a quarter of those patients in intensive care.

"In just 10 days this month, we went from 5,000 to 6,000 cases of COVID-19," said Colfax, who directs the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Colfax cited outdoor gatherings as one cause of the recent surge in infections and emphasized the need to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


“The more virus that is around, the more likely that if you go to a gathering, that somebody has the virus, and is going to transmit it,” he said.

To help alleviate the potential burden on the hospital system, San Francisco is opening a new healthcare facility in the Presidio to treat up to 93 non-COVID-19 patients.

“They would have medical supervision from skilled professional staff and access to physical therapy and laboratory services,” Colfax said.

— Marco Gonzales-Siler (@mijo_marco)

Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Will Help California Trace Spread of Coronavirus

The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub announced on Thursday it will provide free genome sequencing of positive coronavirus lab samples to all 58 public health departments in California.

By tracing genetic mutations in the virus, scientists can better understand where and how it’s spreading.

"This leaves a little bread-crumb-like trail that allows us to track the lineage of the virus," said UCSF biochemist and CZ Biohub co-President Joe DeRisi.

He says the SARS-CoV-2 genome makes small random mutations about every two or three times the virus is transmitted. Genomic epidemiologists can then follow the trail to investigate outbreaks at prisons, nursing homes, factories and other places where groups of people are in close contact. For example, if  two nursing homes both have cases, examining the viral genomes of infected patients could reveal two distinct strains or ones that share similar mutations.

"That would suggest that either there's been some patient transfer between the facilities or there might be a staff member is going back and forth between the facility," DeRisi said.

"Using genome sequencing, researchers can create viral family trees to track how the virus is spreading to help inform policy decisions," Chan Zuckerberg Initiative co-founders Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement.

CZ Biohub has already sequenced more than 1,600 coronavirus genomes before announcing plans to offer the service statewide. The nonprofit research collaborative says it will make the SARS-CoV-2 sequences public for the scientific community.

– Peter Arcuni (@peterarcuni)

Covered California Extends Special Enrollment Period Through End of August

Covered California, the statewide health insurance marketplace, has extended the deadline for signing up for coverage through the end of August, the agency announced Wednesday.

“Covered California is committed to helping people access the health care they need,” said Peter V. Lee, executive director of Covered California, in a statement. “As the battle against the pandemic continues, we want to give people every possible opportunity to get health care coverage, whether it is through Covered California or Medi-Cal.”


Earlier this year, the agency responded to the COVID-19 public health crisis by opening up a special enrollment period from March 20 through June 20, then extended it to July 31.

According to Covered California, 231,040 people have signed up through the exchange for health care coverage between March 20 and July 25 — more than double the number who signed up during the same time last year.

More information on how to sign up is available here.

— Monica Lam (@monicazlam)